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5th Circuit Disses John Edwards T-Shirt

I presume Paul Palmer's parents thought they were taking a stand for free speech when they brought him the T-shirt that bore the slogan, "John Edwards for President '08." Palmer, then a sophomore at Waxahachie High School in Texas, had gone to school that morning with a different T-shirt, one that said Palmer_pete simply, "San Diego." When the assistant principal told him his attire violated the school policy against wearing shirts with printed messages, he phoned home and his parents soon arrived with the Edwards shirt.

You see where this going, right? The school said Palmer could not wear the Edwards shirt. So Palmer got another shirt. This one said "Freedom of Speech" on the front and had the text of the First Amendment on the back. When the school rejected that one, too, Palmer responded by suing the school for violating his freedom of speech under the First Amendment. When the trial court denied Palmer's request for a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the school's dress code, he appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

As Tex Parte Blog reports, a three-judge panel of the court decided yesterday to uphold the trial court's denial of an injunction. The panel found that the lower-court judge did not abuse her discretion by denying the injunction and that the school district's dress code is "content-neutral." Palmer had argued on appeal that the dress code was not content neutral because it permitted small logos and certain school-approved shirts that promote school clubs and athletics. The appellate panel did not see it that way. In the decision, Palmer v. Waxahachie Independent School District, the court said:

The District was in no way attempting to suppress any student’s expression through its dress code -- a critical fact based on earlier student speech cases -- so the dress code is content-neutral. Its allowance for school logos and school-sponsored shirts does not suppress unpopular viewpoints but provides students with more clothing options than they would have had under a complete ban on messages.

Palmer's principal argument (yes, pun intended) had been that Supreme Court cases had established a bright-line rule that schools cannot restrict speech that is not disruptive, lewd, school-sponsored or drug related. But the 5th Circuit said that Palmer overlooked another category of student speech restriction that the constitution allows -- regulations that are content-neutral.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on August 14, 2009 at 11:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)


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